Tools from graphic design program still contributing to alumnus Duane Cardwell’s success decades after graduation
By Emily Willis, CLA student writer - January 13, 2023
The world of art has expanded far beyond a pencil and a sketchbook, even reaching the point of AI art becoming more mainstream, including in graphic design. Through the many transitions and advancements in art and design, the technical and interpersonal skills taught in the graphic design program of the School of Visual, Performing, and Design Arts, still resonate with alumni working in the industry.
Duane Cardwell, ‘97, began drawing from a young age and had an aptitude for art, but was unsure about whether or not to pursue a career in art and design. With the help and encouragement of peers and mentors at OSU he realized quickly that it was something he’d likely be taking very seriously.
“Graphic design as a career was something that I discovered while at OSU,” Cardwell explained. “I started out as an art major, but it was a handful of the professors, including David Hardesty, Andrea Marks, and Henry Sayre, as well as the welcoming environment they created that opened my eyes. They changed the course of my life by showing me that graphic design was a program where I could use my background and talent in art to develop a career.”
The graphic design program looked much different in the late-90s (there were no web design courses and Cardwell didn’t own a computer anyway); the branding, packaging, and typography instruction helped establish a technical foundation for Cardwell, but it was the interpersonal skills that have stuck with him.
“The program taught me how to talk about the work in practical and tangible ways,” said Cardwell. “Why you created the design in a specific way and why what you did was a good visual solution.”
Cardwell continued, “One of the biggest lessons I took from the program was to be open and know how to receive criticism, constructive or otherwise. When working in graphic design, you need to be able to appropriately react to criticism while staying focused on goals and solutions.”
One year after graduating and a few less-than-ideal jobs at local newspapers, Cardwell started his own firm, Cardwell Creative, based in Salem. Since then he and his team have created hundreds of designs for communities, companies, and nonprofits, as well as graciously volunteered time to help other students succeed in the graphic design program.
However, Cardwell’s success didn’t happen overnight and client work ebbed and flowed with economic trends; nevertheless, becoming a freelancer and starting his own agency has allowed him to turn his graphic arts into a sustainable living.
“I’ve loved it,” says Cardwell. “Because since the dawn of time, artists have been looking for a way to survive. The notion of the ‘starving artist’ is a real thing. Most artists who pursue their passion don’t make a lot of money, so this concept of commercial art is great for those who can survive in it and can make art for other people. It allows you to be an artist and get paid for it. I feel pretty lucky to have this job and be a productive part of the artistic community.”